The Eagle Huntress
THE EAGLE HUNTRESS, rated G, in Kazakh with subtitles, Regal DeVargas, 4 chiles
Trained golden eagles have served Kazakh hunters of Mongolia for a millennium, and eagle hunting is a skill traditionally passed down from father to son. The Eagle Huntress, a breathtaking documentary by producer and director Otto Bell and executive producer Daisy Ridley (Star Wars:
The Force Awakens) — who narrates — tells the story of a thirteen-yearold girl named Aisholpan Nurgaiv. She lives in the Altai Mountains and is intent on becoming the first female in her family to be an eagle hunter. She learns from her father and grandfather, who say that the skill is not a choice but a calling. Her male family members — medal winners in competitions and keepers of the hunting tradition for 12 generations — are champions of the technique. The support of Aisholpan’s family is vital. Her father is encouraging, as determined to see her succeed as she is herself.
The Kazakhs, a nomadic people, depend on the hunt for their food. Their relationship to the land and the animals is one of respect and symbiosis. They hunt fox for their fur and larger game for sustenance. The eagles, Ridley tells us in narration, are caught when young and set free “to continue the circle of life” after a period of seven years of service. The Kazakhs inhabit a harsh, unforgiving landscape in a cold mountainous region of Mongolia; Aisholpan’s training in this wild terrain takes courage, and hers is a moving, triumphant story of girl power. “Girls can do anything boys can do if they try,” she says. Her father believes she can be the equal of any man. Her grandfather gives his blessing and encouragement on the day she receives her first eaglet, the bird she’ll train to be her hunting companion.
The Eagle Huntress is a moving documentary portrait that balances an intimate look at Kazakh family life and culture with incredible aerial shots by cinematographer Simon Niblett. The footage of vast treeless valleys, with raptors soaring from the clifftops over the sweeping Mongolian steppes and returning to their master’s arms, is beautiful and dramatic. It takes strength to bear the weight of a landing eagle on one arm and stamina to hunt in temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero. Aisholpan competes successfully against her male counterparts, but her real test comes far from home, on a long, dangerous hunt with her father. The intimate, loving relationship of father and daughter is at the film’s heart. Theirs is an exemplary tale of challenges to social convention and bravery against the odds. It’s a feel-good movie for all ages, and a powerful message for young girls everywhere.
— Michael Abatemarco
Eagle eye: Aisholpan Nurgaiv